Among the new shows from outside that visited Nandikar’s National Theatre Festival, Wings Theatre’s Helen heralded a young Assamese group that we should look out for in future. Led by the 22-year-old writer-actress-director Kismat Bano, whom we have seen previously in the work of Seagull (Guwahati), they chose a difficult subject for their debut: the early life of the legendary Helen Keller. Instead of the easy option of translating William Gibson’s successful play The Miracle Worker, Kismat dramatized Keller’s encounter with Anne Sullivan from Keller’s own autobiography. She not only stuck to her source, but also directed her small ensemble in tight, natural portrayals. She acted Helen herself, convincingly undergoing the transformation from the maladjusted seven-year-old to a more mature child, strongly supported by Doli Devi as Sullivan, the teacher. Of course, contemporary handlers of children with severe impairments should not resort to the method of corporal punishment like Sullivan did in the 19th century, but the story still packs a positive emotional punch.

The Repertory Company of the National School of Drama Sikkim Theatre Training Centre brought Kalo Sunakhari, their production that predates Hami nai Afai Af, which had arrived last year. Abhilash Pillai based it on Yeshi Dorjee Thongchi’s novel Sonam, about the yak-herding Brokpa tribe in Arunachal Pradesh, which sanctions polyandry. Thus, a woman and her two competing husbands form the triangle in the narrative; one wonders, though, whether the retrogressive depiction of the snow leopard as an evil threat and the community’s killing of it may send out wrong signals in our fragile ecology today. Pillai directs in the trademark NSD spectacular fashion, training his large cast into impressive physical performances, but the massive projections of snowcapped mountains, sylvan waterfalls and flowers blossoming in slow motion bore us to death with their repetition; the flowers shown do not even constitute indigenous flora.

A perennial Nandikar favourite, the environmentally-conscious Natya Chetana collective from Odisha, presented another sociopolitical story, Abu, dramatized from Odiya fictionist Manoj Das by Subodh Patnaik. A studious boy has a growing benign tumour in his head. His employer sends him for an operation, but the doctor exploits the size of the tumour, which he discovers is the largest ever recorded, for publicity and self-aggrandizement. The youth in turn receives lucrative advertising offers and capitalizes on them rather than go in for the operation, eventually joining politics too, where he raises a vote bank of differently-abled people. This path of opportunism does not lead to the desired result. Patnaik retains Das’s characteristic irony and choreographs his team into many inventive theatrical images once again, while persisting with creative props and set made of bamboo.

Tripurari Sharma of the group Oorja from Delhi directed Manu Bhandari’s short story Stri Subodhini as a solo enactment of an employee’s eight-year affair with her married boss. It seems quite incredible that the woman entered the relationship without a clue – leave alone a background check – that he had a wife, and that she continues to rue her situation for so long. The narrative therefore does not hold much water. Only Moon Moon Singh’s performance lifts it, her multiple role-playing, dynamic garrulity and flexible movements keeping us engaged with an intelligence that is simply incompatible with the supposed gullibility of her stage character.

A Bengali play from Seattle sounds most unlikely, but the American group Brishchik delivered it to us. Ore Bihanga Mor, written and directed by Debabrata Dey, is yet another romantic triangle, set in the Bharatpur National Park, where a couple go with their old friend whom the wife loved before her marriage. They rekindle the fire but of course the husband is not the fool he looks, and has an ace up his sleeve. Dey, in the latter part, conveys his internal conflict consummately, even breaking into tears more than once. But he should stop using chopped branches to represent trees – an eco-unfriendly practice that sets theatre back by at least fifty years.

(From The Telegraph, 16 January 2016)